One of the primary comments I heard during the 2017 Commodity Classic farm show last week was something related to how high the temperatures have been to start this year. It isn't the first time that warm conditions have been brought up; at a meeting in early February the question was raised about "What happened to the Polar Vortex?" (Answer: It's still around, but has maintained its presence far to the north during the winter of 2017.)
Conditions are definitely warm -- absurdly so, in fact. The nationwide National Phenology Network, a plant science organization, has this headline item on the organization's website home page this week:
"Status of Spring: The rapid spread of spring continues up the country, with Midwest states three to four weeks ahead of a long-term average. Indianapolis and Pittsburgh are 30 days early. Subsequent frosts could reset plant activity."
Thirty days. A full month ahead of average. The implications for all sorts of plants -- including crops -- is obvious. Plant growth has begun, which means that fieldwork chores have an earlier time line. There has been lots of fertilizer already applied, and if you have not read or heard some accounts of corn planting in the Midwest being done, you were likely either out of the country or had an embargo on social media.
There are a couple issues with crop weather and crop needs that go along with this early warming -- which, by the way, is a feature that climate change analysis has cited as a more-frequent-than-not occurrence to anticipate in the future.
First: In the Southern Plains, winter wheat is exiting dormancy and now is more vulnerable to even brief cold snaps should they occur (in fact, there's one possible such event indicated during next week). The wheat crop is also needing available soil moisture right now -- the time for waiting for soil moisture recharge is over because of the warmer trend.
Second: That early start on plant growth means that some drier areas of the southern Midwest -- Missouri and Illinois specifically -- will require MORE precipitation to maintain the soil moisture supplies that are now in the ground, because when plant growth is going on, the roots are extracting soil moisture and thus are using available resources. Also, those roots are many times the roots of weeds that have either seed germination or are coming out of their dormant phases.
Six- to 10-day forecast precipitation does have the potential to moderate to heavy in that drier area of the Midwest. This would be an important happening. The Southern Plains, however, is not in line to take in the slow soaker that is on everyone's wish list in the region.
There's one more note about the warming that is going on -- there have also been many comparisons to what we're seeing now and the hot, dry year of 2012, five years ago.
Bryce Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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